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Hello, Blue Roses - The Portrait Is Finished & I have Failed To Capture Your Beauty

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Artist: Hello, Blue Roses

Album: The Portrait Is Finished & I have Failed To Capture Your Beauty

Label: Locust

Review date: Jan. 16, 2008

Hello, Blue Roses is lovebirds Dan Bejar (a.k.a. Destroyer, erstwhile New Pornographer) and visual artist Sydney Vermont, and while there’s no mistaking the extent to which the music they create together is a collaborative effort The Portrait is Finished and I Have Failed to Capture Your Beauty is first and foremost Vermont’s show. She wrote 13 of the album’s 14 tracks (a cover of Kevin Ayers’s “Hymn” being the other) and her voice and acoustic guitar dominates throughout. Bejar plays Cale to Vermont’s Nico, contributing arrangements, backing vocals, and a few unmistakably characteristic flourishes to the mix. And wisely so: Vermont is an impressive singer and songwriter in her own right, and Bejar’s musical savoir-faire casts her talents in the best possible light. Although there are a few ever-so slightly awkward moments, Portrait bears the marks of a perfect collaboration, one in which two very strong (and very different) personal aesthetics merge seamlessly together into one unified vision.

Vermont, an enchanting vocalist with a knack for phrasing, at times calls to mind a less affected Josephine Foster. Her acoustic ballads draw deeply upon “Ladies of the Canyon” style late-’60s folk, but never come off as derivative or overly self-conscious. While the backbone of Portrait is composed by these songs, there are a couple of fruitful detours as well: “Shadow Falls” is a somewhat incongruous nod to ’80s synth-pop, while “St. Angela,” the only track with a full band, falls somewhere between Laurel Canyon country-rock and the Allman Brothers.

Vermont’s knack for spare and haunting melodies is perhaps demonstrated by the two solo tracks here (the brief-but-lovely “Paquita Reads By Candelight” and “Golden Fruit”), but Portrait reaches its crowning moments when Bejar throws in his invaluable two cents. His trademarks – wordless vocals, careening fuzz guitar, and the occasional anthemic flourish – somehow manage to weave their way into Vermont’s pastoral folk without the slightest sense of disruption. Unlike some of Destroyer’s more recent forays into the epic, Vermont’s songs manage to retain a sense of spontaneity and intimacy even when Bejar goes for baroque, piling on vintage synths and distortion-laden leads. Indeed, these make for some of Portrait’s most ecstatic moments, as in the balls-out ocarina (!) and electric guitar duet that finishes off “Mediterranean Snow,” an homage to the Spanish winter that served as setting for the album’s creation.

The cover of Ayers’ hymn provides a fitting coda, as Vermont and Bejar’s voices lovingly intertwine around a serpentine melody; it comes off beautifully, even if Bejar isn’t exactly the ideal partner for a duet. Portrait is a warm and generous offering, both a charming “Hello” to Sydney Vermont, and the loveliest sort of musical marriage.

By Michael Cramer

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